A Message of Grace for Me at the Rooted Conference

We swear we didn’t pay him, but Clark Fobes wrote this wonderful article while sitting in the airport after attending #Rooted2015. His words so represented what we tried to accomplish through the conference, we thought we’d share them with the rest of the Rooted Community!

Today marks the end of this year’s Rooted Conference. Beginning last Thursday afternoon, approximately 250 youth pastors and leaders gathered in Chicago, IL, to be encouraged and refreshed in the Gospel. Over the course of the next two days, seven main sessions, many workshops, and one panel, we were all exhorted to make our ministries – really our lives – about rejoicing in and proclaiming the glories of the Gospel. Though the conference is over, there are many thoughts from the sessions that still linger with me.

Leaders Need Community

In the second session, David Plant (Associate Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York), charged us from 2 Samuel 11-12 to not become spiritually isolated as we lead. As David (King of Israel, not Plant) grew more and more comfortable with his isolation, so he grew more and more comfortable with his sin, which eventually led to his downfall into adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. This idea of community for the leader was reinforced throughout the conference. The danger for those in ministry is that we set ourselves up on a “rooftop terrace” (2 Sam 11:2), looking down on everyone else, in isolation from spiritual community. If youth pastors and leaders wish to remain effective and healthy in life and ministry, we need community. We cannot lead out of isolation.

The longer I’ve been in pastoral leadership, the more I’ve come to realize how lonely it can be. People often place pastors on a spiritual pedestal, causing us to feel pressure to be “presentable” – as if we have everything all figured out, aren’t struggling with our own sin, and don’t desperately need the Gospel for ourselves. Often we as pastors can even place ourselves on a spiritual pedestal, thinking that if we don’t have it all together, our people won’t follow or be willing to listen to us. So we create what Paul Tripp calls “a delusion of strength or spirituality,” acting as if we do have it together and don’t need help. This mindset leads to our eventual isolation and loneliness.

Anyone working in ministry knows (or at least deep down suspects) that nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to our spiritual presentability. We are all broken, sinful people; we just get really good at hiding it. As those in the position of leading others to rest and rejoicing in their identity in Christ, we need a radical commitment to our own sanctification. We cannot achieve this in our own strength, but only by the means of the Gospel and the God-given grace of community. Rooted has reminded and re-convicted me that I need to surround myself with people who can be real with me, not impressed with me.

Leaders as the Chief Repenters

In the third session, Scotty Smith gave the charge that if we are saved not by our works but by Christ’s work, and if God no longer deals with us according to our sins (because he dealt with Jesus according to our sins), then we are free to be exposed for who we truly are. Cameron Cole added to this in his talk, reminding us that because Jesus was fully exposed on the Cross, fully rejected, and completely isolated, we can be completely exposed yet remain completely accepted, and therefore completely in community with God. If all of these things are true about the Gospel, then we are free to come to God in honest repentance. Likewise, we have nothing to fear in being exposed before our churches and communities.

Often in ministry, we are terrified of being “found out.” The thought of our churches discovering our shortcomings and our failures – that we might actually be human – ruins us. We feel we need to be Christ’s ambassadors to our churches by appearing as perfect as Christ himself. We feel the weight and burden of ministry on our shoulders, and therefore we must be the spiritual and moral heroes. Thankfully, Peter Ong rebuked this thought in his talk and reminded us that the power of the Good News comes from a full recognition of the bad news. That is a truth our people so greatly need to see in us.

If we want our churches to see the glories and embrace the goodness of the Gospel, we must be willing to allow them to see it lived out in our own lives. If we want our students to see what faith and repentance in Christ looks like, we must model it for them. There is comfort in knowing that we don’t need to be the hero for our people; Jesus is. If I portray “the perfect pastor” to my church, then my church will see no need for the perfect Savior. 

Leaders Rejoicing in the Gospel

This may seem redundant, but that is precisely the point – we can never move on from the Gospel, no matter the call or circumstance. Scotty Smith reminded us that there is nothing more than the Gospel, there is only more of the Gospel. 

In session 5, Mary Willson declared that the most productive thing we can do for our ministries is to rejoice in Christ. If we want to be people who proclaim the Gospel, we need to be people who rejoice in the Gospel. There is no greater thing we can do for our students than to be so convicted by the Gospel, that our lives exude passion for it.

Unfortunately, this is something we tend to forget the longer we serve in ministry. The more we meet people without the Gospel, the more we think they need it, and the less we feel we need it. As we are wrapped up in the ins and outs of ministry, projects, events, and responsibilities get piled on our plates, leading us to do everything but rest in the Gospel ourselves. The thing our students need most is not more programs, but more of Jesus; and the more we rest in the Gospel, the more we will preach and lead out of our own conviction.

This, essentially, is the heart of Rooted, and I am grateful to have been blessed and ministered to in such a way that I remember to my core that Jesus is enough for me. 

Youth Pastor and Youth Leader, let us not place ourselves in the spotlight of ministry, but under the saving grace of Jesus. Let us rejoice that souls are won not by our works or our might, but by Jesus’ work alone. And let us strive to continue to find rest and comfort in the cross of Christ as we bear God’s grace to a lonely and hurting generation.

To learn more about gospel centered youth ministry, check out more articles from Rooted’s youth ministry blog. 

Clark is the Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church SF, and has served in Youth Ministry in the Asian-American context for over a decade. He received his M.Div. from Talbot Theological School in Southern California, and is a Doctor of Missiology (D.Miss) candidate at Southern Seminary (SBTS). He is also an emeritus member of Rooted’s Steering Committee. He and his wife, Janet, have two daughters, Kara and Nora.

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